Italian designer, architect, artist, and publisher
Giovanni “Gio” Ponti (born November 18, 1891, Milan, Italy–died September 16, 1979, Milan, Italy) was one of the most influential Italian architects, industrial designers, furniture designers, artists, and publishers of the 20th century. He is associated with the development of modern architecture and modern industrial design in Italy and is known for having been a major part of the Novecento movement.
Ponti graduated in 1921 from the Politecnico di Milano. In 1923, he started his first industrial design work for the Richard-Ginori pottery factory, close to Florence. During his 15-year relationship with the pottery factory, especially during the early years, Gio Ponti collaborated with craftsmen and artisans creating rich designs, with abundant colors, elaborate shapes, and skilled craftsmanship, mostly in the neoclassical style. This style/approach was highly at odds with the functional and minimal approach of the then prevalent Italian rationalism, and it was broadly present in Ponti’s work in the 1930s and 1940s, becoming less so over later years. read more
In 1923, Ponti made his public debut at the first Biennial Exhibition of the Decorative Arts in Monza, which was followed by his involvement in organizing the subsequent Triennale Exhibitions of Monza and Milan. In 1933, he invited Pietro Chiesa to join him and Luigi Fontana—owner of one of the largest glass manufacturers in Italy—to create Fontana Arte, a company that specialized in manufacturing furniture, lighting, glass windows, and furnishing accessories. In 1934, he was given the title of Commander of the Royal Order of Vasa in Stockholm. He also obtained the Accademia d’Italia Art Prize for his artistic merits, the gold medal from the Académie d’Architecture in Paris, and an honorary doctorate from the London Royal College of Art.
In the 1940s, he collaborated with Paolo de Poli in the production of furniture, decorative panels, and new objects of design and animal motifs in sculptural forms, and in 1946, he started three years of involvement designing Murano glassware for Venini.
As with other important Italian designers, such as Nino Zoncada, Gustavo Pulitzer-Finale, Paolo de Poli, Pietro Chiesa, and Gino Sarfatti, Gio Ponti was involved in many interior and furniture design projects for ocean liners. During the early 1950s, Ponti also became attracted to Piero Fornasetti’s painted silk scarves, and they started a productive partnership of Ponti-designed furniture decorated with Fornasetti paintings and formed a close friendship with Italian architect and designer Ico Parisi.
As an architect, Gio Ponti renovated the idea of Italy as a creative design and architectural force and was an essential agent in establishing Italy as a global design center in the mid-20th century. In 1956, he designed and built the Pirelli skyscraper in Milan in collaboration with Fornaroli, Rosselli, and Nervi. Two of his most renowned architectural works, though, were built outside of Italy: Villa Planchart (1955) in Caracas and Villa Nemazee in Tehran.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, he designed many interior design pieces, of which his chairs became extremely popular for their joyful sprit and streamlined modern sensuality—characteristics that are persistent throughout most of his creative work. In 1957, he designed the successfully omnipresent Superleggera chair for Cassina, the crowning achievement of a long and fruitful working association designing furniture and creating design objects. Gio Ponti’s other works with Italian furniture manufacturers include the Continuum rattan chair for Pierantonio Bonacina in 1963, a group of wooden arm chairs he designed in 1964 for Knoll, the Dezza armchair for Poltrona Frau in 1966, and many furniture pieces he designed in the late 1960s for Tecno, Osvaldo Borsani’s furniture manufacturing company. In 1966, he invited lighting designer Elio Martinelli to showcase his lamps at the inaugural Eurodomus exhibition, which catapulted Martinelli’s career as an innovative light designer.
By the 1970s, at the end of his career, Gio Ponti had intensified his quest for transparency and lightness. It was during this time that he designed and built facades resembling undulated and perforated sheets of paper with geometric shapes and unique patterns. In 1970, he finished the Taranto Cathedral, a white rectangular building topped with a huge concrete facade perforated with openings. In 1971, he contributed to the exterior envelope design of the Denver Art Museum in Colorado and submitted the project design for the future Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Gio Ponti died in 1979 on Via Nezza in Milan. His design objects and furniture remain in high demand today by collectors, and many of them are considered iconoclastic examples of mid-century Italian design.
Last updated: April 19, 2019
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